I’ve tried so hard, you guys. I’ve tried not to wade into the discussion, when it honestly feels like there can be no winner, no reason, no agreement. When every gesture feels small and empty and unworthy of the weight of the cause. I hide things in my newsfeed and turn off alerts and I tell myself, “Don’t look, Courtney. Those are not your people. Those heartless, lost souls, with their unimaginable hate and poisonous words, are not the same as you.” But then, a couple of things happened, and my fingers found these keys.
First, I went for a run. I have a 3-mile loop that I do quite a bit, and in the final stretch, right before I reach home, it takes me down a main street in our neighborhood. There’s an older man there who has, on and off, displayed a Confederate flag off his front porch. And, of course, when I drive by I always feel bothered, but what is there to be done about it? Well, on this night, just 3 days after the violent acts of Charlottesville, on the eve of my daughters’ return to school, the sight of it as I ran down the street sent acid into the pit of my stomach. And on this night, the man was sitting on his porch, just behind the flag, jubilantly chatting on his phone.
It wasn’t intentional, but I locked my eyes on his and scowled. I broke my gaze for a second and then, again involuntarily, it returned to him. I wanted to scream. I wanted to name him as the bully he was for everyone who was out in their yard to hear. I wanted to question his motives. Was it a power play to make people in the neighborhood uncomfortable or just a big middle finger to the general acceptance and kindhearted coexistence of others on these streets?
Before this night. Before the flag, I’d seen this man out, typically walking his dog. He always waved and said hello to my children. And now, with one aesthetic gesture, I saw him as some kind of monster. What does that say about me? That I am so easily unglued and rattled? That I didn’t go up to him and have the conversation, out of the resignation and assumption that a confrontation was laced into his motive? And the animosity I felt toward him … does that make me any better than the man who put the flag up in the first place?
The fact that these questions and suspicions and hateful conclusions even cross my mind is a disheartening reality of the current state of affairs. It breaks my soul to think of the thoughtless way in which we’re treating our neighbors, and the irreversible effects it’s all having on our children. The spirit of humanity is in distress. And, I gotta tell ya, if we can’t figure out how to fix it, it won’t matter what Mother Nature has to say about this planet. It will already be ruined.
Second, and far more importantly, I watched an amazing speech. Weeks ago, I’d moved a video of a lecture my friend Ryan gave into my “Saved videos” folder on Facebook. I’d watch it another day, when I could give it more attention, I told myself.
Ryan has been one of my most unexpected friends. I say that because our paths might never have crossed if it weren’t for our free-thinking, ultra-accepting high school newspaper crew. He was the editor, I was a writer, and even though he was younger, we shared a passion for the work. Somehow – and I can’t remember now – we reconnected when Hank and I moved to Indianapolis. I was 14 months pregnant with JoJo, and Ryan and his equally amazing wife, Andrea, had a daughter. They were so kind to us during that time in our lives. We were two young couples, finding comfort in the face of rapid change, the uncertainty of the decisions we were making and the gravity of starting a family. The love Ryan and Andrea gave was unconditional and sincere and instant.
In addition to their talents – he a self-employed graphic designer, she the principal of a respected downtown school – these friends of ours have the integrity and grit of true change leaders. I’ve known that for years, but when I finally opened the link and listened to Ryan’s message, the tears in my eyes solidified my opinion.
Given a stage and a microphone and an audience to talk about his professional talents, my friend Ryan chose to address compassion and empathy instead. He chose to be brave. He chose to use his words to enlighten and inspire rows of young designers about something far more important than font or color theory.
Watching him work through his script, composed of words I imagine he typed and deleted and altered and rehearsed countless times, I felt something different in the pit of my stomach. I felt a sense of purpose. Purpose to protect the light and incubate empathy. When I looked into his eyes, I saw hope, which will beat the shit out of hate on any given day.
I want to thank my friend Ryan for the gift he gave me today. And for the space he is creating in this world, perhaps when it needs it most.
“We have to believe in a light that shines and never dies. What alternative do we have? We can not allow apathy, cynicism and resignation to paralyze us while someone snuffs the light out. They can’t stop us when we embrace hope and optimism. And we have the courage to be protectors and beacons of light. Seek depth. Create space. Engage with a servant’s heart. Shine light on others and feel things deeply.” – Ryan Hunley